The curtains are open and the stage is set. Theatrhythm Final Bar Line marks the return of the Final Fantasy rhythm series to Nintendo consoles after a 10-year break. We've had a chance to go hands-on with an upcoming demo for the game, which will be available on 1st February, and if the early goings-on is anything to go on, then this sequel is shaping up to be as much of a delight as the 3DS entries.
In the demo, we were able to try out two modes — Series Quests, which is open from the start, and Music Stages, which you unlock after beating your first song in Series Quests. Music Stages is pretty much the exact same as it was in Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call: once you've unlocked the song, you can play it anytime you want on any difficulty you want. The demo allows you to unlock 30 songs, 30 characters, and level up your collection of cute characters to level 30 — and you can carry over your progress to the full game.
So we jumped right into Series Quests, a brand new mode for the Theatrhythm series. Expanding on the Series Mode from the first game and taking a note from Curtain Call's Quest Medley, Series Quests sees you playing through a particular game (or category's) music. But you have to get a key first to unlock a new Series Quest. Using the key on a game unlocks that quest and also gets you a handful of characters to play as from that particular entry, and you get more keys by playing through these quests.
We could only unlock songs and characters from six mainline games in the demo — Final Fantasy II, Final Fantasy V, Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy XIII, Final Fantasy XIV, and Final Fantasy XV. All of the unlockable songs are returning tracks from previous Theatrhythm games, including the arcade-exclusive All-Star Carnival. All the party-building mechanics of Curtain Call make their return, with the ability to build five separate parties of four, and character level up very quickly — you'll get a party of four to level 30 in less than a few hours if you stick with them.
In Series Quests, you need to essentially "play through" your chosen Final Fantasy title in musical form. So if you pick Final Fantasy II first, for example, your first port of call is the game's battle theme — a callback to how the NES entry starts out. Or, with Final Fantasy XIV, you can pick one of three starting songs, which all represent one of the three main regions that you can choose to start in when beginning your adventure in the MMORPG. The demo only lets you play through the first few songs in each Series Quest — anywhere between three and six of them — but it was the perfect appetizer for a mode we can see ourselves having a lot of fun with.
What's of most interest with Final Bar Line, however, is the controls. Final Bar Line, unlike the two 3DS games, doesn't have any touchscreen controls at all — at least not in the demo version. Instead, notes can be activated by using any of the buttons on your Switch — including the shoulder buttons and the left and right joysticks. All of the same notes — like the simple red hits and the green notes where you have to hold down the button then let go at the right time — return, but there are notes where you have to use both joysticks and push them in different (or the same) direction, and sometimes you'll need to hold two buttons down at the same time for a period of time, but let go of one of them earlier than the other. Fortunately, there are a handful of control schemes you can play with, including a mode where only button presses are required (so no analogue sticks required).
We've got the stylus controls embedded in our musical brains here, so going buttons only took us a while to get used to. You could always go buttons-only in previous games, though, so depending on your preferred playstyle, it may take you more (or less) time to get used to this new play style. However, even in the demo, you have access to some accessibility options that can help adjust the timing of the Triggers if you keep hitting them too early or late. You can also play every single song on one of four difficulty options, and practice makes perfect, so you don't need to move up from Basic to Expert until you're ready to.
The demo is the perfect overture for what's shaping up to be a loving tribute to Final Fantasy's (and Square Enix's in general) musical legacy
Otherwise, this is the same Theatrhythm you all know and love. Just minutes into the demo, while we were playing through 'Four Hearts' from FFV, we had a stupidly huge grin on our face as the cute cardboard cutout characters ran across the field, attacking monsters as we hit the notes in time with the music. And we replayed many songs, from 'Fight On!' to 'The Rebel Army' multiple times, chasing the elusive Perfect Chain score and trying to get as many Rainbow Criticals as we could. It's the kind of addictive arcade-style gameplay we loved back on the 3DS, just on a bigger screen.
There are extra challenges in Series Quests which unlock items, cards, and all sorts. These require you to do more than just beat a stage — sometimes you have to use a certain number of abilities, while other times you need to find a treasure chest. This keeps incentivising you to come back and play the same quests over and over, sometimes on a higher difficulty, and even with the 30 songs we currently have, we can't help but keep lapping up the rewards and scores until we get the best numbers.
Both docked and undocked, the demo ran perfectly smoothly — but we actually preferred playing this undocked. The smaller screen made it easier for us to focus on the notes, especially with Final Bar Line's much busier backdrops. Again, this is another feature you can adjust by dimming the backgrounds, and both TV and handheld mode have separate Trigger input settings so you can try everything out ahead of the game's launch.
If you're planning on picking up Theatrhtyhm Final Bar Line, there's really no reason not to grab the demo beforehand. All of the CollectaCards, up to 2000 Rhythmia (points that act like currency), the summons, and airships you acquire can be carried over into the full game, so you can be stocked up and ready to rock. The demo is the perfect overture for what's shaping up to be a loving tribute to Final Fantasy's (and Square Enix's in general) musical legacy — as long as we can master those button controls.
The game launches on 16th February 2023, and the base game comes with 385 songs. The Digital Deluxe version has all of this plus an additional 27 songs and Season Pass 1, while the Premium Digital Deluxe Edition has all of the above along with all three Season passes. You'll be able to buy all DLC songs and packs separately, too.
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I loved the first two entries on the 3DS ... this will be amazing. But the lack of touchscreen controls worries me.
Hope they add more than the usual tracks from other IPs other than Final Fantasy as they are usually good and a great palette cleanser after hearing lots and lots of FF songs after a while.
And 10 years have passed since the second one????!!!! -_-
@YoshiF2 As does me but I'm happy they have a demo to try it out.
As much as I'd rather play with the touch screen I love FF songs too much not to give buttons a try.
@YoshiF2 The touch screen controls being missing isn't really a big deal from my experience. I've played Curtain Call on 3DS, and tried out both the button and touch controls. The button controls are way easier to utilize and much more precise in the harder difficulties. It's hard to keep up with the song while having to tap the screen rapidly.
Can't wait for this game. I've been dying for a new one of these for years; never remotely thought it would actually happen. Easy day one Premium Digital Deluxe edition for me on this one.
Super excited for this. I liked to challenge myself by trying to hit perfect scores on Expert using both control schemes on the 3DS. This may make it easier now that it's only one mode. Just a little sad that the 3DS version might lose a little meaning if this game will have all previous features and more (minus touchscreen, of course).
I put like 500 hours into Curtain Call but I'm still on the fence on this one for now. Partly because I haven't been finding much time for rhythm games lately thanks to my large backlog and partly due to the price. If I buy it then I want all the songs but I need to be committed to actually playing it a lot to justify that expense.
Gonna buy the Premium Digital Deluxe Edition as soon as I get my paycheck. I love this series so much
@YoshiF2 8 and a half years so not as dreadfully aged, but we still getting old
This game looks really good, which concerns me greatly as this is modern day Square Enix. Chocobo GP looked really good too, and we know how SE's greed destroyed that. While the premium edition is ridiculous money (and who am I kidding that'll be my sucker order), if that is the sole means of monetisation that'd be okay. Fingers crossed SE just let their creatives make and release a good game.
Doesn’t seem there’s much incentive to get this over the 3DS version? Literally sounds like it’s the same game… probably give this one a miss unless I see it going for cheap.
@croz The 3DS game had 221 songs...this game will have 385 songs. I don't know, an additional 164 songs sounds pretty good to me
@JeoyTS my point still stands, it’s the same game. 164 is less new content than the original. What’s new to the gameplay?
@croz Try the demo. Maybe it'll change your mind?
I already have the Premium Digital Deluxe Edition pre-ordered. Curtain Call was my most played 3DS game so this was a must-buy for me personally.
@croz sorry but you’re wrong.
The original game had 77 songs
The sequel had 221 songs (which is a 144 increase)
The third game will have 385 songs (which is an 164 increase)
So, no, it’s not “less content” it’s actually more content than the sequel gave us initially coming from the original. It’s an actual improvement in added content for the third game.
Not completely wrong (and you won’t convince me otherwise 🤣) because it is still the same game at its core and is not worth £50 regardless of number of songs added.
@croz at the end that’s an opinion not suitable as a valid argument. Fundamentally, yes, you’re wrong since this one has more content than the last, which was your initial argument.
Nope. I’ll get this when it’s bargain bin prices.
This game is on my wish list. Very excited for the demo as I’m not sure if I’ll like this type of game.
No touch controls? Of course, square shooting themselves on the foot.
Ok now I have like 2 weeks to play some of my many other rhythm games on my switch to convince my partner that I need to spend £95 on the fancy ass edition...
I was already sold on this, I didn't need selling any more. About the demo, I tend not to play them because it kills the hype, but in this case I'd be tempted,, if i wasn't playing 2 games already at the moment...
@Oppyz666 It's made for PS4 so likely reason SE doesn't feel like going the extra few feet for us Switch owners.
May look into it so long as the songs I really want to play aren’t locked behind paid dlc. Otherwise I’ll be content to just keep playing the kingdom hearts rhythm game.
With stick controls it sounds basically like the Arcade version. I’ll give the demo a go, then. Who knows? I might not even have to open up my 3DS Curtain Call.
Now that I know it's confirmed you can upgrade to the Deluxe Edition (thanks again @KayFiOS) I preordered a physical copy on sale, good to hear the game's great based on the demo!
Happy to hear a demo is coming and progress carries over.
30 songs is a massive improvement from previous demos in the Theatrhythm series; the first game got two demos, the first only had one song, and the second demo, and the demos for Curtain Call and the woefully Japan-exclusive Theatrhythm: Dragon Quest, each had only two songs.
I got good mileage out of that second demo for the first game before I bought the full game, 30 songs will certainly keep me occupied until Final Bar Line releases!
can't wait. I used button controls on 3DS too, so the lack of touch doesn't bother me
Demo went up nearly 12 hours early for Australia so I just streamed it for just over an hour hah. Planning to do more too UwU
30 songs! That's almost half of the first complete game And even that one I enjoyed for many hours. CC was a huge improvement with more content.
I'll probably get this game with all DLC. The fact this can be played on the big screen (and better audio) and has (local) multiplayer makes this one of the rare day one purchases for me.
Looks really fun, love me some rhythm games from major companies :3
This looks incredible, and by some miracle I've still got the copy of Curtain Call I downloaded but never played to tide me over until I can sponge up the funds to pay for Final Bar. A genuine surprise this series has been enough of a success to grow this big but I'm absolutely here for it.
Was the Supreme difficulty tier added in the arcade version? I was surprised to see it when I loaded up the demo, and even more surprised at how ridiculously hard it was.
The controls definitely take some getting used to, but up to the third difficulty tier (aka the hardest in the 3ds version), I was able to handle it just fine. Then going up to 4, having to hold one long note while hitting multiple single and directional notes, felt like patting my head and rubbing my belly.
The extra songs alone and the ability to play on switch would've made it worth it for me, the need to relearn the game on these controls would've added fake-longevity but longevity nonetheless. The new quest mode made like the Kingdom Hearts rhythm game's quest mode is a nice touch, making it less random and more set is good too. But the absurd lurch in difficulty makes it must for me. That and it was a better Dry-January at the bar I work at than I anticipated.
"Fortunately, there are a handful of control schemes you can play with, including a mode where only button presses are required (so no analogue sticks required)."
I can't find these settings in the demo. Are they exclusive to the full game and the version you got to play? @AlanaHagues
@Quarth Nope! If you press 'X' on the song select screen, you can choose to play any song in Standard, Pair, or Simple mode, which either changes the input or lets you play with another person.
Good to hear I can alter the controls, I sadly need it. So stoked to sink another 100 hours into this! 😂❤️❤️
@AlanaHagues Thanks! I guess simple mode removes the sticks then. Will try later today.
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